Sunday, 8 November 2009

Millennium by Tom Holland

DATE PUBLISHED: 2008 DATE READ: November 2009 NOTES: This is a scholarly look at the so-called Dark Ages around the 10th century. As he was covering the known Christian world (from Britain to Palestine) he had quite a task as so many differing events were taking place. But he manages to bring clarity to a complex subject. He gives us a great sweep of history which includes Christians, Vikings, Saxons, Normans, Franks, Jews and Saracens and they manoeuvre for land, money and power. One of the enduring features of the time was the vying for supremacy between Rome and Constantinople and the continual battle between lay rulers and the Pope. He points out the somewhat ignoble beginnings of the concept of knighthood and later how pilgrimages turned into crusades. The rise of the Cluny monastic order is also well covered. Nor does he neglect to mention the very lowliest of society and the woeful lives of the peasant class even though little has been recorded of their lives – “for the silence of the poor is almost total”. Holland has a deft touch with language. In recounting how William Longsword, a Norseman converted to Christianity, had gone to parley with the Count of Flanders “he had done so unarmed, as befitted a Christian lord meeting with a fellow prince; and the Count of Flanders, as befitted a Christian lord meeting with a dangerous pirate, had ordered him hacked to death.” But suffused through these tumultuous times is the widespread belief that the world was about to end and that the Antichrist would arrive and the effect this has on the actions of many. (Spoiler alert – the world doesn’t end!”)

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